Post-Mortem: The Random Adventures Of Brandon Generator

When Tommy Lee Edwards approached me last December about the project that would become Brandon Generator, I kind of thought “yeah, cool, we’ll see if that actually happens”. Now it’s July and we’ve just wrapped the fourth and final episode. I’m looking around, wondering where the last 5 months went, and did we REALLY just make 30 MINUTES of whatever this thing is? Also, can I sleep now?

If you haven’t already seen the episodes, go to http://www.brandongenerator.com/ and catch up. I’ll wait. No, you don’t have to have IE9 to watch the episodes.

Ok, are you back?

One of the best things about this project was the fact that the initial expectations were for something closer to a motion comic. We wanted to go beyond that, but how far beyond was in our court. I said in my original post about this project a few months back that, although this was a massive piece of branded content, it was one of the most experimental projects I’ve worked on. I think the reason for that is the fact that we were working and improvising under some incredibly tight schedules with some unpredictable content, all of us throwing what we had into the middle and seeing what came out. I’ve received a few questions about how we made it. Not just questions about the art/animation part, but how we actually went about organizing and communicating. I think I can explain it in two words: INTERNET MAGIC.

The process for an episode would go something like this:

Edgar Wright has an idea for where he’d like to do in the episode, looks at the user-submitted ideas, has a good think, writes a script and emails it. Tommy receives the script and forwards it to me. Tommy starts looking at the user submitted stuff and starts storyboarding. I stare at my monitor blankly for awhile, then start putting together some ideas for things I know will be in the episode. Don Cameron and/or Darly Bartley, our 3d guys on the west coast, start putting together things if they can. A few days later, Tommy is done storyboarding.

He sends the boards to everyone and we all make some notes. Often Tommy and I would have long Skype meetings as we went through the boards. That happened mostly in the first couple episodes. By the end we were reading one another’s minds. Edgar chimes in here with his notes on the boards. At this point Julian records his dialogue. All of the previous notes are taken into consideration as I make an animatic. That, in turn, is sent to everyone and further notes are given. By this time Tommy is already working on the final art for the various shots. As Tommy completes the art, I start assembling and animating. A week or so later and we’ve completed the first draft.

Some great art and a ton of After Effects-ing. Often a sequence would end up needing many more shots than originally planned.

Tommy and I are both dead exhausted by this point. Tommy would produce over 100 psd’s for a single episode, each one containing artwork for a shot and often frames of traditional animation for Brandon or Victoria. I would have covered over 7 minutes. The finished draft is uploaded to the ftp, everyone downloads it and makes even more notes.

Notes on the various drafts of episode 4.

Dave Holmes can start adding music and Alisdair McGregor can begin working his magic on sound. We go through anywhere between 2 and 6 new drafts over the next few days. Finally everyone signs off and we all go to sleep for several days. Well, that’s not true. At this point Al is still finishing up sound and then the LBi kids over in London are getting the site together, which has been at least partially redesigned since the last episode. Oh yeah, throughout all of this Tommy (and sometimes myself) are also putting out art for the different hubs in the site. We’re also getting PR material together for another bunch of Londoners, 3 Monkeys. You may have seen their work around recently.

 From what I hear from British friends, these ads were everywhere. Hey! I made that logo! And it’s huge!

And then episode is released, we get a flood of user ideas, and the next week the whole machine starts grinding again. Repeat. An international collaborative project isn’t really that difficult to pull off when you have good, dedicated, communicative people. I’ve never  met Tommy or Edgar or Don or Darly or Al or Dave or Julian or any of the fine folks at LBi, 3 Monkeys or Microsoft and yet we all worked together very closely for almost half a year. The internet is the best, isn’t it?

Going through the user submissions was fascinating. Thousands of super cool and talented people putting a lot of thought and effort into their drawings and prose. A great many people who draw far better than I. During the “submit your picture” phase after episode 2, we received one in which a girl had what appeared to be a massive great horned owl alighting on her arm. That was one of the coolest things I’ve seen recently, and made me wonder what has gone so wrong in my own life that I stood zero chance of ever doing something so utterly rad.

Also, there were a fair few penis drawings. But you’ll have that, and some of them were quite well realized. Sadly, we could not find a way to work the penis monsters in. Apologies. One of the interesting things that happen when you get thousands and thousands of users submitting ideas for a story is that trends begin to emerge. A lot of them showed up in the episodes as we went along. Almost immediately people were suggesting an evil Brandon, a coffee monster, and the ctrl-alt-del thing. On the other hand, many people took the first episode to mean that Brandon had murdered someone and repressed the memory. Many people submitted that idea. Hey internet people… you ok?

It’s been hard to explain to people what exactly I did on this project. I say “all animation that wasn’t frame-by-frame in Tommy’s style or rendered 3d, plus compositing, fx, editing, design, winning attitude”, but then they just stare at me blankly. So since this is my blog and all I’ve put together a visual guide, in order of craziness.

Some shots were simple. Just putting the animated texture treatment on the characters and the film treatment on the shot. Probably some color correction as well. Most shots also had elements separated by depth, with a moving camera.

There were shots like this that included art and some frame-by-frame animation from Tommy, along with some particles and camera movement from me. Oh, those particles. Episode 3 is almost wall-to-wall void particles made with Trapcode Particular. Where’s my Red Giant sponsorship?

Most shots were a bit more involved. This one featured 3d buildings in the far distance from Daryl, artwork from Tommy, and a decent amount of mask-drawing on my part. This shot took forever because I was committed to making void squares that actually followed the contours of the scenery.

Some shots involved 3d work from Don or Daryl, with some work from me.

Now we’re talking. Caffiendo was an epic undertaking. I was provided a psd with the lines and shadows on different layers.

I recolored those layers and used them as particle emitters in Trapcode Particular to give it some bubbling. I used Roughen Edges and animated it to give the layers that gooey, liquid feeling. I added an animated texture to the shadows for that coffee murk. The main bulk of Caffiendo’s body behind the lines and shadows was a big brown masked solid layer. I then made and animated the eyes, again all with solid layers and masks.

All of this was precomped and slapped together. I brought it into the main shot with the artwork Tommy had provided, which had been separated, particle’d, fx’d and camera’d. I combined some Puppet Tool wizardry with some animation of the layers within the Caffiendo precomp to create this shot. All of the other Caffiendo shots were created in basically the same way.

And then there were the bits like this, which involved a lot of easy-to-spot design and animation that was wholly my own. One of the biggest challenges early on was figuring out how to mesh our styles together. Tommy is a guy who draws people and actual things. I draw circles with pointy noses and noodle arms. Don and Daryl work in an entire extra D.  Against all odds, I think we all came together pretty well.

So that’s that. If you have any questions about how something was done or whatever, hit me in the comments.  This has been one of my favorite projects I’ve ever worked on. The caliber of the talent involved was unbelievable. We were given free reign creatively, and got to do some pretty hardcore improvising on the fly(which is always my favorite part of client work). As I’m writing this, all four episodes are screening at a big fancy event in London. I’m a little sad that I couldn’t be there. But I’m really proud of the enormity of what we’ve made with such a tiny team and timetable. I got to know and work with some fantastic, talented people. Very grateful for the opportunity, experience and new friendships. And now I’m going to sleep for a good two weeks.

3 comments

  • 07/12/2012 at 10:52 am // Reply

    Scott – your work on this has been awesome. And you are so right about being proud of the entire project – everyone involved (including me) feels the same as you that this is the best project they have ever been involved in. Thank you, Thank you. Your work is amazing!

    James Tutt

    (Brandon Generator PR lead at Microsoft UK)

  • 07/12/2012 at 11:02 am // Reply

    Awesome man…simply awesome. So happy for you. We need to hang soon; after you’ve had a chance to sleep :)

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